There are seven games from here to the buoy which signals the midway point of the league. The adversaries are, in order: Bari, Atalanta, Lazio, Sampdoria, Parma, Cagliari, and Chievo. 15 points is not an unrealistic expectation from such a string of softies, and it would propel Roma to positions much closer to the coveted fourth spot. The second half of the season will present a whole new challenge, but for now, those 15 minimum points must be Claudio Ranieri’s first priority. Ranieri knows this, and we may hope that the international break gave him time enough to conceive a suitable strategy.
Tensions between tactical efficiency and psychological demands are at the heart of Roma’s future, both immediate and middle-term. The most proficient formation so far seems to be the 4-3-1-2, with a midfield composed of Matteo Brighi, Daniele De Rossi and Simone Perrotta, as well as David Pizarro playing as trequartista. It was enough to trouble Inter, so it seems likely that we will see it again. The problem with this formation is that Roma currently enjoys a phenomenal strength in the prominent youngsters that are emerging from its ranks, most notably Jérémy Ménez, Stefano Okaka, Marco Motta, Alessio Cerci, Stefano Guberti, Marco Andreolli and Ricardo Faty. Assuming that the starting strikers in a 4-3-1-2 would be Francesco Totti and Mirko Vučinić, this leaves no less than four of the seven names above without a role to play in. Some have suggested that Ménez could start as trequartista behind Totti and Vučinić, but given the physicality (or lack thereof) of the Frenchman and his ineffective, not to say ridiculous defensive skills, this seems unlikely. The trequartista is a compromise between a midfielder and a striker, and Ménez can only fulfil the tasks of the latter.
A formation which would make better use of Roma’s current pool would be the 4-4-2. Simone Perrotta could play on either of the two flanks, alternating with Guberti and Cerci and balancing their offensive slant (in fact, Guberti is robust enough defensively to envision fielding him at the same time as Cerci, if the full-backs are solid). The central midfield pairing would be composed of De Rossi and one between Pizarro and Brighi. Of course, as long as those fifteen points are up for grabs, Ranieri must go with the formation that is the most likely to secure them. But experience on the field has shown that Roma is most effective when the average age of the players on the pitch goes down rather than up. The Giallorossi have young blood that is as strong as a bull. It cannot be left to ferment on the bench.
The seeds of potential buried in Roma’s bench become all the more vital in light of the second half of the season, when they will have to face Genoa, Juventus and Fiorentina in the space of the first four matches. If the current string of mellifluous games is utilised to let the youngsters coalesce into a real team, we could see the wolves walk into the return fixtures like they really were wolves – a formidable team can be harvested from the current confusion. On the other hand, if Ranieri surrenders too often to the provisional solution that is the 4-3-1-2 and relies too much upon old blood, such a team may simply never come into being, and the Giallorossi will face Juventus, Fiorentina and the rest much as they did at the beginning of the season – that is to say, being expected to lose.
Very careful work will have to be done over the next seven games to ensure that the right balance is found. Over-reliance on either of the two formations would be self-defeating – too conservatory an approach would cripple the future of the team, but one which is too progressive would lose us the golden opportunity represented by those dearest fifteen points. Combinations of all kinds must be tested with the strikers – Totti and Ménez, Ménez and Vučinić, Totti and Okaka, Okaka and Ménez, Vučinić and Okaka. The chance must be seized to offer Totti some rest and the younger guns some time on the field, saving the former from injuries (hopefully, at least) and building on the confidence of the latter. The midfield must become flexible and learn how to transition smoothly from the 4-3-1-2 to the 4-4-2 (or 4-2-3-1, depending), even in the space of the same match. An advantage offered by Ménez and Brighi is that both of them are capable of playing on the wing or as trequartista, meaning that they can enter the team and tilt its offensive or defensive slant regardless of which of the two formations is chosen. Starting them in such a position is not a strategy we would recommend, as mentioned earlier with the Frenchman, but they are excellent aces in the sleeve for when the team is under by a goal or needs to defend a result.
Claudio Ranieri picked up this team in a state of complete chaos. He has succeeded so far in marshalling it into a functional block of players. He started by fielding only the most experienced men, and he gradually added the younger names, all the while experimenting with all possible formations. His work was conducted efficiently and we applaud him for his success. Now that he has extracted the team from the darkness, he must raise it into light. The job he has done so far is very good – but it is only half a job. The second part of Ranieri’s homework book starts this Sunday, with Bari. Romanisti may fear that he should fail, but everybody else ought to fear that he does not.
Roma Club Focus 2009/10
The senate is adjourned – August 25, 2009
Houston, we have a problem – August 28, 2009
The time of Penelope – September 1, 2009
Good move, bad timing – September 4, 2009
International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)
Break means homework time for Ranieri – September 7, 2009
A win that means more than three points – September 15, 2009
Ranieri chases team spirit – September 18, 2009
Champagne! – September 22, 2009
Children of Chaos – September 25, 2009
Catania is beginning to get on our nerves – September 29, 2009
Ranieri has yet to stabilise i Lupi – October 3, 2009
A solid win at a heavy price? – October 6, 2009
Rumours as IFFHS ranks the Giallorossi as best in Italy – October 9, 2009
The strange attractor of two inherently chaotic teams – October 16, 2009
The sound and the fury – October 20, 2009
The importance of being Francesco – October 23, 2009
A shot in the foot – October 27, 2009
Waiting for Godot (and the rest of our men) – October 30, 2009
Win as a team, die as individuals – November 3, 2009
Into the nest of snakes – November 6, 2009
A promise of spring – November 10, 2009
International week (Italy-Holland, Italy-Sweden)
Purgatory is not enough – November 20, 2009